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Feature story |

The People Facing the Pandemic

2 min
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Voices from the frontline tell us what they’re seeing and what is needed to save lives

Every day our medical teams are tested to their limits as they try to bring help to communities affected by COVID-19. 

There is an urgent need for people to get access to tests, medicines and vaccines to protect them against the virus.  

We have the tools – there are vaccines and tests, and some medicines that can help reduce the severity of the disease.    

But while people in high-income countries are able to get hold of vaccines, tests and medicines, that’s not the case for many people in low- and middle-income countries, including in places where MSF works.  

We need to see the end of this inequity and the supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, medicines and tests boosted globally to ensure everyone has access.   

That’s why we need governments to stop blocking the World Trade Organization (WTO) Waiver on monopolies of COVID-19 medical tools; the pharma industry to share its vaccine technologies and know-how with other manufacturers; and countries to share their excess vaccine doses with the rest of the world.

Our people are passionate about saving lives. Help them get the tools to do so.  


Our medical teams share their experiences and what they've witnessed during the pandemic. The urgency of their stories is what drives us to call for change to ensure equitable access to all COVID-19 medical tools.

Mpilo Luthuli, Nurse, South Africa 

There was equipment that had been provided in abundance, yet it still wasn’t enough for the amount of people who needed help with COVID-19. I witnessed a lot of people losing their lives within the first day. A situation that made me emotional there was seeing a university student die from COVID-19 right before my eyes, yet this person had walked in seeming fine and had only complained about having shortness of breath.  

Khairil Musa, Doctor, Yemen

The daily ward round in our hospital felt punishing to a degree I’ve never experienced before. Row upon row of patients suffocating, gasping for breath and groaning with distress. A cacophony of voices from our Yemeni doctors and nurses yelling “Oxygen! Oxygen!” 

Mamadou, General Practitioner, Senegal 

This fight against COVID-19 will go down as one of the most challenging of my medical career. Indeed, having to give body and soul to care for people with the virus, while at the same time maintaining a certain distance from your patients in order to avoid being contaminated and becoming a source of transmission yourself, is no easy task. 

Leena Menghaney, Lawyer, MSF Access Campaign Head of South Asia 

Over the last few months, we have helplessly witnessed people in South Asia scrambling to get hold of tocilizumab for patients with severe forms of COVID-19....the world cannot wait any longer for access to treatments that can help in increasing the chances of survival. 

Mansour, Nurse, Senegal 

I am worried that hospitals will not be able to cope with the people affected by COVID-19, that one day the majority of healthcare workers will be infected ... I also worry that, at a time when we are witnessing a global crisis, countries still in development like ours are facing famine and insecurity. 

Marc Biot, Doctor, India 

Numbers are stabilising now, but we know there will be another surge... As a doctor, it’s very distressing to see that, wave after wave of COVID-19, countries remain unprepared and medical teams are left without the essential medicines they need to save lives on the massive scale required. 

Carmen, Nurse, Spain 

It can be summed up as a healthcare system in chaos, with medical staff who are exhausted and overwhelmed by the working conditions and the horrors of a pandemic the likes of which we have never experienced before...... Access to vaccines, treatments and personal protective equipment must be guaranteed for everyone: they are a common and universal good for all people of the world, without exception. 

Helen Bygrave, Doctor, United Kingdom 

People in our projects with diabetes, especially if poorly controlled, are very vulnerable and can deteriorate rapidly if infected with COVID-19. Getting hold of medicines, tests and vaccines against the virus rapidly is urgent. 

Christopher Mambula, Doctor, Kenya and Uganda 

The concern that we have is that the vaccination until this point is really limited. In both countries, less than 2% of adults are fully vaccinated. Unfortunately, until we achieve this collective protection by vaccination, these waves will continue to happen. 

Francesco Segoni, Emergency Coordinator, Peru 

The main challenge today is to help patients in severe and critical conditions. There are almost no beds available in intensive care units, and they are often occupied for long periods by severe COVID-19 patients. Oxygen supplies are insufficient, and a major concern is that the vaccination rate is still very low, leaving people exposed and the healthcare system under pressure. 

Bonnie, General Practitioner, Mexico 

It has been a challenge dealing day after day with the suffering of patients: the physical suffering due to their poor health, plus the mental suffering that comes with isolation, with not being able to have any contact with their families. 

Tom Ellman, Doctor, South Africa 

As many countries in Africa right now are reporting a high number of deaths due to the spread of new and existing variants of COVID-19, these governments are in dire need of vaccines, diagnostics, oxygen and other treatments to help save lives of critically ill patients. 

MSF staff share their stories

Click on each person on the map to find out more.

South African activists protest in support of the WTO TRIPS Waiver Photo by Tadeu Andre

No Patents, No Monopolies in a Pandemic

Monopolies are often an obstacle between people and the lifesaving health tools they need. Patents and other exclusivities limit supply and keep prices high.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown we need new rules that can help every country address the fast-growing medical needs during a major global health crisis.

Over 100 countries at the World Trade Organization (WTO) supported a proposal to temporarily waive patents, trade secrets and other intellectual property (IP) on all COVID-19 medical tools.

Photo by Tadeu Andre